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Earth Day 2021: a time to reflect

By Ruth Kamnitzer
Today, on April 22, over 1 billion people will come together – virtually – to mark Earth Day.(Pixabay)

By Ruth Kamnitzer

Today, on April 22, over 1 billion people will come together – virtually – to mark Earth Day. This year’s theme is ‘Restore the Earth’ and focuses on how natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking can restore the world’s ecosystems and combat climate change.

Among those marking this day will be Joe Biden and the 40 world leaders he has invited to his Summit for Climate Leaders. Biden will announce new plans by the U.S. to cut emissions over the next 10 years and highlight how enhanced climate ambition will create good paying jobs, advance innovative technologies, and help vulnerable countries adapt to climate impacts. He hopes that new U.S. commitments will spur the leaders of other major economies, including Canada, to follow suit. Increased commitments – and actions to support them – are sorely needed if we are to limit global warming to 1.5-degrees and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Despite the pandemic, global greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise in 2020, according to the World Meteorological Institute’s recent report on the State of the Global Climate 2020 . It was one of the three warmest years on record, a record setting temperature of 38 degrees C was recorded north of the Arctic Circle, and Arctic minimum sea ice was at its second lowest. The wildfires that ravaged the Western U.S. and filled our own Kootenay skies with acrid smoke were only one of the many impacts of the droughts, heatwaves, and other extreme weather events that are the hallmarks of climate change.

“I call on everyone – from governments, civil society and business to individual citizens to make 2021 count,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres wrote in his forward to the report.

So how do we, as a province, position ourselves to be leaders in the low carbon future Biden will lay out in his Earth Day summit?

British Columbia has some of North America’s most progressive climate policies. In 2008 BC became the first jurisdiction to implement a carbon tax. CleanBC and the Climate Change Accountability Act lays provides incentives and lays out a plan for reducing emissions, and newly set sectoral targets lay out details of how we are going to get there. We have been leading the country in electric vehicle sales, and our BC Energy Step Code for building has been held up as an example to the rest of Canada.

Yet at the same time, we have policies and projects that jeopardize our progress and tie our economy to an unsustainable future.

Emissions from existing and proposed LNG and fracking development are not in line with our commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, according to a report by the Canadian Institute for Policy Alternatives. In fact, if the LNG Canada project in Kitimat comes online, emissions from oil and gas would alone exceed our 2050 emissions target by 160 %. Yet the government continues to support oil and gas through subsidies, despite a recent poll showing that British Columbians prefer investment in clean energy over LNG. Coal mines in the Elk Valley are having serious environmental impacts, including selenium pollution, for which Teck recently received the largest fine ever given out under the Fisheries Act. If the four additional mines now being proposed are approved, those impacts will worsen. And while emissions from exported coal do not show up in Canada’s totals, they nonetheless go up into our atmosphere. Meanwhile, continued logging of old growth, and failure to act quickly enough on the recommendations of the old growth strategic review released last September, will impact the ability of these forests to take carbon out of the atmosphere, as well as threatening biodiversity and the cultural and spiritual value of our forests.

As a province, we must push forward with policies and projects that take us towards our goal of reducing emissions, stabilizing our climate, and protecting ecosystems, and swiftly move away from those that take us in the opposite direction. Every policy, every project, every dollar we spend, matters.

And this Earth Day, how do we as individuals, weary from the long pandemic and worried about our finances, heed Guterres’ call to ‘make 2021 count’?

Firstly, we must educate ourselves on issues at stake. Take time to understand climate change and the impacts it is having here in B.C. and all over the globe. Find out what scientists are saying. Watch an overview of the latest State of the Climate Report, or tune in to the livestream of Biden’s climate summit. Understand our policies in B.C. Read up on our carbon intensive industries like mining, natural gas, and forestry, to understand the environmental and economic impacts. Don’t assume the way we have done things in the past is the way we should do them in the future. Reflect on the role natural healthy ecosystems play in our lives, and support policies that protect habitats. Then act. Lower your personal environmental footprint. Take advantage of rebates being offered through BetterHomesBC to make your home more energy efficient. Think about your consumer choices. Talk with your colleagues, your friends and family, and share what you have learned. And finally, communicate with your elected representatives, and let them know that tackling climate change and protecting our natural environment is at the top of your agenda.